By Husain Haqqani, The Nation (Pakistan) January 30, 2008
Most heads of state paint a positive picture of their nation. During his recent tour of Europe, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf did the exact opposite. According to him,Pakistan's people are "ill disciplined," "tribal" and "feudal," and certainly not ready for modern democracy. Pakistan's politicians, in his view, are "corrupt." Its Supreme Court judges are "politicized," "inept," "corrupt," and "nepotistic." Its most respected media personalities are "undermining our forces and [their] own country." Pakistan's religious leaders, we have repeatedly been told, are "extremists."
The impact of Musharraf's assertions was reflected in the question posed to me by a European intellectual in the Conference Centre Lounge of the World Economic Forum inDavos, Switzerland. "When he has so much contempt for his own nation why does Musharraf want to lead it?" he wondered.
Before arriving in Davos, Musharraf gave a longish speech in Brussels during which he argued that Pakistan should not be judged by European standards of human rights. He pleaded with members of the European Parliament to have "more patience" with his unique brand of constitution-suspending "democracy." Musharraf's exact words were, "We are for democracy and I have introduced the essence of democracy, but we cannot be as forward looking as you are [in the West]. Allow us some time to reach that state."
Describing the West's concern with democracy in the third world as an "obsession," he said, "You have taken centuries to reach where you have come. Allow us time for going for the value that you have reached for yourself."
The problem with that line of reasoning is that it raises questions about Pakistan's preparedness for modernity. If Pakistan is modern enough to be a nuclear weapons power and an attractive destination for foreign investment, why does it have a problem embracing modern democracy? If it needs time to be "forward looking" then why should the backwardness apply selectively to human rights and democracy and not to the other characteristics of being a modern power?
Musharraf's assertions about democracy were reminiscent of comments by Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling, whom George Orwell described as the "prophet of British imperialism." When asked by a journalist in 1891 in Australia about the possibility of self-government in India, Kipling had said "Oh no, they are 4,000 years old out there, much too old to learn that business. Law and order is what they want and we are there to give it to them and we give it to them straight."
Apart from muddying the waters about the prospect of human rights and democracy in Pakistan, Musharraf also confused interviewers and audiences about Pakistan's priorities in the war against terrorism. He told his audience at the French Institute for International Relations that it is more important for his Pakistani troops on the Afghan border to root out the Taliban than search for al-Qaida leaders. That Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large "doesn't mean much," he said and suggested they are far less a threat to his regime than Taliban-linked militants entrenched in Pakistan's west. The problem is many westerners remember that from 2002 onwards Musharraf's line used to be "We are going after Al-Qaeda but the Taliban are not such a priority." His latest U-turn is bound to result in many new research papers and articles in days to come.
Musharraf should not have wasted time touring European capitals to try and convince western governments of Pakistan's stability and his own good intentions. He should, instead, have faced the evaporation of support for his authoritarian regime at home. His trip has helped project Pakistan as a troubled country and his own attitude during that trip has not helped his own battered image.
A simple browsing of all the interviews Musharraf gave during this trip reveals an unwillingness to make adjustments or acknowledge mistakes. He told one interviewer that he would leave power when he is convinced that the people of Pakistan want him to quit. But it would only be his "feeling" and personal knowledge, not the results of an election, opinion poll or any other mechanism that would determine when the people no longer support him. Such reasoning might have impressed Musharraf's own entourage, it only attracted sighs or giggles from outsiders.
When Nik Gowing of BBC World TV asked him about the statement by one hundred retired senior military officers demanding his resignation, Musharraf's response was that only ten people had signed the statement. This made him appear like a ruler out of touch with reality. His description of the statement's signatories as "insignificant personalities" some of whom had "served under me and I kicked them out" showed him to be arrogant.
Many of the retired military men criticizing him were senior to Musharraf in the armed forces. Air Marshals Asghar Khan and Nur Khan are war heroes, unblemished by charges of intrigue. Lt. General Faiz Ali Chishti was a Corps Commander when Musharraf was probably a Lt. Colonel. Lt. General Talat Masood is recognized for his contribution to the indigenization of Pakistan's weapons capability. One need not agree with Lt. General Hamid Gul to recognize that he is far from insignificant. Lt. General Ali Quli Khan would have been army chief instead of Musharraf if the latter had not persuaded former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of his personal loyalty. In retirement, Ali Quli Khan is still significant because he did not try to reach the top by feigning personal loyalty that has been the consistent pattern for Pakistan's coup-making generals.
The dignified response from Musharraf to a statement by senior retired military men would have been silence. Similarly, there would have been less embarrassment for the government if handfuls of Musharraf supporters had not been asked to face much larger demonstrations by his critics. On occasion of Musharraf's meting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at No. 10 Downing Street, the media reported that thirty (30) pro-Musharraf demonstrators showed up with his portraits to face several hundred opponents. The one is to ten ratio of supporters to opponents in Londonistan exposed Musharraf's lack of support in Pakistan even further.
Pakistanis may be divided by ideology, ethnicity and class but they are increasingly uniting in their disapproval of Mr. Musharraf and the civil-military oligarchy he represents. The Western media is not buying into Musharraf's sales pitch that he is a valuable ally in the war against terrorism and the governments cannot be far behind. A ruler widely disliked by his own people is unlikely to be effective in defeating the expanding insurgency waged by Al-Qaeda's Taliban allies.
Musharraf is failing to recognize the widening gulf between State and society and appears ill-prepared to address its ramifications. His western backers especially British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Bush cannot forever ignore public opinion within their own countries, which seems to be that Musharraf's policies are undermining the war against terror while accentuating Pakistan's difficulties. In an effort to maintain international support, Musharraf is saying things that make him sound increasingly out of touch and haughty, while raising questions about Pakistan, the State, and causing erosion of respect for Pakistan, the nation.
Husain Haqqani, Professor of International Relations at Boston University, is Co-Chair of the Hudson Institute's Project on Islam and Democracy and author of the Carnegie Endowment book 'Pakistan Between Mosque and Military.' He served as an adviser to Ms Bhutto.